Radiant Heating
Photograph by Ralph Masullo
Stepping onto ice-cold bathroom tile is a cruel way to wake up in the morning. It's no wonder so many of us invest in extra-thick slippers and giant bath mats. But what if we were able to shed our slippers and step barefoot onto tile that's toasty warm? Radiant-floor heating makes that possible. And you can install it in your home with far less trouble and expense than you might expect. Radiant-floor heating has been around for centuries. The principle is simple: The floor radiates heat to your feet, warming you all over. Most familiar are hydronic systems that heat your entire house. They produce wonderful heat, but they require serpentine runs of plastic tubing, water heaters or boilers, pumps and manifolds. This makes hydronic systems expensive and complicated to install. A simpler, less expensive alternative for just a single room is one of the electric systems discussed here. System Basics An electric radiant system consists of thin heating cables, like the wires in an electric blanket, installed under ceramic tile. Because the cables are so thin they don't raise the level of the flooring much; this makes them great for remodeling. They're installed where warm floors are appreciated: bathrooms, mudrooms, and kitchens. Controlled by their own thermostat, these systems don't replace your main heating unit — they augment it. To install an electric radiant floor in an existing room, you'll need a dedicated 15- to 20-amp GFCI-protected circuit to power the system, and an excuse to lay a new tile floor. If you're remodeling, it's a good time to satisfy both requirements. A bathroom-size warm-floor retrofit will cost $400 to $700 including the cost of the new tile. This system will consume about the same amount of electricity as three 100W lightbulbs.
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